Along with all the fantastic eating we did last weekend in New Orleans, we also managed to fit in a few activities. As the city was gearing up for both the SuperBowl and Mardi Gras, there was plenty to get our attention, including some early parades in the Garden District as well as a couple of unique “walking parades” (i.e., no floats): Krewe of Barkus (all dogs) and Krewe of Chewbacchus (a sci-fi fantastica).
And bien sur, no visit to New Orleans would be complete without a few jazz clubs, and we made sure to hit the ones on Frenchman Street in the Marigny each night for at least one set, as well as Vaughan’s up in the Bywater, where Kermit Ruffins plays every Thursday night.
But in this great food city, there was one activity we had never thought to do before: a cooking class. I know, crazy, right? We found a class offered by the New Orleans School of Cooking, right in the quarter on St. Louis Street, that seemed to fit our schedule and budget for a quick weekend trip: Saturday morning, 10AM to noon, $29 each. It was demo-style, not hands-on, but the reviews on TripAdvisor were overwhelmingly positive, so we took the plunge and bought our spots a few weeks before the trip.
The day of the class, we arrived at least 15 minutes early as they suggested, and immediately were a bit unsure of what we’d gotten into. The waiting area–part of a store, really–seemed to be very disorganized, with a lot of old ladies milling about and demanding a ticket, and we were suddenly discouraged that this was going to be a waste of time, one big sales pitch for the packaged products out front.
Our fears turned out to be unfounded. We were called into the room in the order in which we had purchased our tickets, and so we got the best choice of seating in the room. The instructor that day, Kevin, was an absolute delight. Born and raised in New Orleans, he proceeded to tell wonderful stories about the food that included some history, some personal anecdotes, and a great many fantastic tips on the cooking itself. This class covered making bread pudding, pralines, gumbo and jambalaya, and Kevin’s instructions were clear and simple to follow. And despite his warning that if we cooked a lot, the class would drive us nuts, both Rob and I came away with some tips that will definitely make our cooking better.
Which brings me to the recipe: Gumbo Ya Ya is a name used in New Orleans for gumbo that typically contains sausage and chicken, rather than seafood. Although I have made this gumbo several times before, it was good but not great, never even approaching the fantastic gumbos we’ve had all over the city, including at the Jazz Fest Fairgrounds last year. However, the tips I got from the cooking class took my recipe to a new level – particularly the roux, the flour-oil combination that is the cornerstone of any good gumbo. You can bet I’ll be making this a few more times during this cold, cold winter in Boston.
Sara’s Gumbo Ya Ya
Makes enough for four, and can be doubled.
- 1 green pepper, diced
- 1 onion, diced
- 3 ribs of celery, diced
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, sliced
- 1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup flour
- spices: 1/2 tsp each: paprika, oregano, thyme, cayenne, kosher salt
- about 1 lb of cooked chicken, cubed
- 2 andouille links, sliced lengthwise in half, then into half-moons (can substitute equal amount of smoked sausage; a half-loop of Hillshire Farms smoked sausage, for example)
- about 5 oz of frozen okra, defrosted (optional)
- 1 quart of chicken stock
Place the green pepper, onion, celery and garlic into a Dutch oven or heavy soup pot. In a small saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat until very hot (just until wisps of smoke appear), whisk in the flour and stir well to incorporate. Using a wooden spoon, stir slowly and continuously over medium-low heat, cooking the roux until it turns a dark peanut butter color. Do not leave the stove! This will take about 10-15 minutes, but it can scorch if unattended.
When the roux is ready, pour it on top of the vegetables in the other pot, making sure to scrape out all of it. Turn on the heat under the Dutch oven to medium-high, add in the spices, and stir everything together for a few minutes to be sure the roux coats all of the vegetables. Add the chicken, sausage, and okra to the pot, and cook together a few more minutes.
Slowly stir in the chicken stock. Turn the heat up to high, bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Partially cover the pot so it stays at a low simmer. Cook for about an hour; the gumbo will thicken. Taste after about a half hour, and adjust seasoning if needed.
Have you made gumbo before? I’d love to hear your tips and tricks!